Just released Episode One of our Warcraft series, Exploring Azeroth! Despite some technical difficulties, it was a really fun time and a great introduction for anyone new to the universe.
In this episode, Venezia masters the controls, completes her first quests, and learns to slay her enemies with ice and fire. Meanwhile, Evaric suggests a backstory for the Malos, based on a true story. There’s also an awkward allusion to a Hemingway novel, because it just wouldn’t be us if there wasn’t.
Instead of reviewing or discussing a specific piece of entertainment this week, I’m going to talk about an idea I’ve been thinking about for a while. As a lifelong aspiring writer, I’ve always taken a different approach to critiquing books, movies, and anything else with a story than most people I know. I’m sure any creative can relate: even if all you want to do is sit down and enjoy a fun movie, you can’t help but listen to that voice in the back of your mind asking “If I wrote this story, what would I have done differently?” or “What can I learn from the triumphs and failures of this work that I can apply to my own creations?”
Whether you are a creative or not, the books or movies that frustrate you the most are usually the ones with the most potential. Nobody gets upset about how bad The Room or Saw 12 is. The movies that really get under your skin are either the ones that you went into with high expectations and came out of disappointed, or the ones that could have been extraordinary with a few minor tweaks.
Just reading about the subject, you’re probably already reliving your anger with the last book or show that let you down. The fact that we can get so upset over bad entertainment is a telling sign of how truly pampered we are in our first-world bubble – as Tyler Durden would say, we have no Great War, no Great Depression, only Greatly Disappointing X-Men movies. But that’s not the point.
The point is I don’t think watching a movie that fails to live up to its potential has to be a negative experience, at least not for us lucky enough to be cursed with a creative spirit. I have friends who walked out of Logan saying “That could have been a lot better” but I walked out saying “How could that have been better?” I have no doubt that the next story I write will be a tiny bit better than it would have been if I had not seen Logan and reflected on its strengths and weaknesses. In keeping with the positive, improvement-oriented mission statement of Desdenada, I would like to introduce Potential Criticism.
Reviewing Better, Creating Better
I have long been in love with World of Warcraft and its expansive lore, but I’m not about to argue that any of the storylines in the game or its companion novels constitute great literature. Not that Blizzard ever set out to write Shakespearean tragedies. Instead, they created a truly enormous world, populated with archetypes and familiar tropes. Many of the characters and plots of the Warcraft universe feel familiar, and that’s okay, because the game’s best stories have always been the ones you and your friends create.
But every now and then I’ll stumble across a spark of real promise. My favorite example would have to be Garrosh Hellscream. I’ll never forget my first encounter with this troubled young orc: he was the son of a legendary hero and his people expected great things of him, but you find him brooding and dejected, staring into a bonfire with tears in his eyes. There’s a whole quest line where you reveal to him that his father, who Garrosh sees as a monster, redeemed himself and died a hero in the end.
With his faith restored, Garrosh takes a more active role in the leadership of his people – with mixed results. His heart is in the right place, but he was raised with a different ideology than the other leaders and he is haunted by his father’s name and his own insecurities. It’s a tumultuous journey: at one point a disagreement with the current Warchief of his faction, the Horde, gets so heated it actually erupts into physical violence; later, that same Warchief steps down and names Garrosh as his successor.
At this point in the game, not only were in-game characters split about his leadership, but so were the players themselves. The majority of players hated him, but I and a few other holdouts still empathized with the character.
Then, as Warcraft characters often do, he kind of went off the deep end for no reason. Garrosh was always aggressive and warlike, but he believed strongly in honor and at one point executed an underling who went too far and started attacking civilians. Later on, he changed his mind without explanation and bombed a whole city full of civilians. Like many characters who start off with interestingly gray moralities, he was ultimately corrupted by cosmic forces of evil and became a cartoon villain with no other motivation besides doing bad stuff for the sake of doing bad stuff.
I was frustrated, to say the least, by the ultimate handling of what was possibly my favorite character. In retrospect, I can see that this anger was pointless and misplaced. The conclusion of his story is a letdown, but it does not erase the story beats I found appealing in the first place. As a writer, I have a unique opportunity to recreate my own version of his story arc. An abandoned son who is unsure if his father was a hero or a monster, and in trying to live up to the family name must himself walk the line between hero and monster – now that’s a concept I can use. The best part is, I’m free to write whatever ending I want, using the poor conclusion of Garrosh’s story to avoid making the same mistakes myself.
Going forward, I’m going to do my best not to get angry or upset about entertainment that lets me down. There’s an ugly tendency these days to see creators as the enemy, as if they are maliciously sabotaging their own art just to make us suffer.
I prefer to think that we are all in this together. Creators do their best to make something we can enjoy. Sometimes they fail. As fellow creators, we can learn from their mistakes to better ourselves. As consumers, we can give them honest but fair feedback, so that they can learn and serve us better going forward.
There is so much potential beauty in this world, so why put effort into creating ugliness? With a little optimism and a little empathy, we can all contribute to the creative process in our own way.
That’s my thinking, at least. What’s your strategy for criticizing entertainment?
We are very excited to announce the launch of Desdenada’s first gaming series, Exploring Azeroth! I have discussed before how World of Warcraft has impacted my personal life philosophy, and now I hope to share that with Venezia – and, of course, with you.
In this preview episode, I give Venezia a rundown of the character options and the basic story of the world. Then she makes her first ever Warcraft character. If you are familiar with the game already you can probably skip this one, although you may be surprised how seeing a new player experience it for the first time can make the whole game feel fresh again.
When I started writing this blog, I decided I would write on the broad topic of entertainment every Friday. Today is Saturday, because I don’t have my life together, but anyway, here’s my first impressions of the second most popular R-rated dark gritty Q1 Marvel superhero movie to date.
SPOILERS for Logan. The whole thing. All of it.
Right out the gate, my experience watching Logan was probably different than almost every other viewer’s. Being a gringo watching the movie in a theater in Mexico while sitting beside my Mexican girlfriend somewhat colored my reaction to the very first scene, which featured a gringo heroically tearing a bunch of Mexicans to shreds because – and I’m not making this up – the Mexicans tried to steal his tires. Admittedly, my reaction was still at least 50% “Woah sweet claws”, but the rest of me was thinking what my girlfriend was saying out loud: “Well, this is unfortunate.” Venezia and I are going to do a more comprehensive video review of Logan at some point and the film’s handling of Mexico will doubtless be a major talking point, so I won’t get into it too much here. Suffice it to say that the Mexicans I’ve spoken to would probably have a higher opinion of Logan if it hadn’t involved Mexico at all.
With that out of the way, there was a lot I loved about the movie. The R-rating wasn’t just marketing hype. The film was dark, and gritty, and brutal in just the right way. It wasn’t that the violence was excessive or gratuitous. It was that you really felt the impact every time Wolverine drove his claws through someone’s head. Action in superhero movies, even Deadpool, always feels so soft to me, so this alone was enough to make Logan my favorite superhero movie of all time. This isn’t saying a whole lot since I don’t love superhero movies in general, but Logan showed me what a superhero movie could be, and I loved it. The whole antihero trope is hugely popular these days, but even movies that star antiheroes are afraid to actually have the hero do anything questionable and risk alienating the audience. As a result, these characters tend to be snarky and loudly protest doing anything heroic while still actively being heroic and going above and beyond the call of duty at every turn. Early on in Logan, on the other hand, Wolverine tries to abandon a little girl to her death to save himself and his friends. Not as in he thinks really hard about abandoning her but comes back at the last second because he secretly has a heart of gold. He literally makes every effort to leave her behind, and only doesn’t because he proves physically incapable of escaping himself. His alcohol problem is not just a character trait, but an actual problem. Xavier is motivated by equal parts altruism and a selfish desire to still matter. His deteriorating mental state has not only robbed him of his powers, but also caused him to inadvertently murder, like, a lot of innocent people. Main characters die, and they don’t come back. These are all things I haven’t seen in a comic book movie before, and I look forward to seeing more of going forward.
That said, my feelings are decidedly mixed. All these new, daring, gritty decisions are exciting, but they’re pretty much sprayed on top of the most basic Marvel formula. Take way that gritty coat of paint, and this is how the plot shakes out:
Hero is lying low and just wants to be left alone
Damsel in distress asks hero to do hero stuff, but hero is reluctant
Person hero cares about is threatened, forcing hero to do hero stuff
Faceless corporate villain pursues hero
Pursuit is headed by smarmy faux-affable henchman and misguided affable scientist
Each time hero thinks he’s safe, faceless corporate villain appears out of nowhere
Hero fights evil version of himself and seemingly wins but doesn’t bother to make sure
Hero decides he has done a sufficient level of hero stuff and tries to leave before the plot is resolved
The plot gets catty and threatens someone he cares about again
In a throwaway line that seems totally out of place, smarmy faux-affable henchman mentions that GMOs are the root of all evil
Everyone immediately forgets he said this and it is never brought up again
Hero defeats evil version of himself with the help of new allies, but doesn’t bother to make sure he’s really dead
Hero fights evil version of himself again, sacrificing everything to save someone he cares about
Evil version of hero is ultimately killed by MacGuffin which could have been used at any time, rendering most of the plot, as well as the death of the hero and countless innocents, pretty much pointless
The plot resolves in a fashion that sets up not only a sequal, but potentially an entire franchise
Okay, so my plot breakdown was a little snarkier than it needed to be, but at the end of the day the structure of Logan is pretty identical to the first Captain America or Ant Man or even Deadpool for that matter.
Again, we have a more extensive video review in the works so if this seems a little offhand or flippant, stay tuned. Unlike me, Venezia has been watching Hugh Jackman star in Wolverine movies pretty much since she was born, so her take on Logan is probably a bit more fair. In any case, this is my first impression: Logan breaks a lot of new ground and does a lot of stuff that is just plain awesome, but at its heart it is a formulaic story that Marvel has told a thousand times.
If you have your own take on the movie, we’d love to hear from you! Even if you just want to tell me how wrong I am. Especially if you just want to tell me how wrong I am. Hit me with your best adamantium-clad shot.